Thinking about prejudice and discrimination often brings to mind acts of blatant prejudice, such as segregated schools or sexual harassment in the workplace. Subtle acts of prejudice and discrimination, in contrast, are less visible and obvious and, as such, are more difficult to recognize in one's own behaviors or in the actions of one's social group members (Benokraitis & Feagin, 1995). However, research on modern prejudice shows that all people are prejudiced to some degree, even if they are not aware of it, and so they are likely to engage in acts reflecting this subtle prejudice. For example, research on ambivalent prejudice shows that people can simultaneously hold both negative and positive attitudes toward other social group members (Katz & Hass, 1988), and research on aversive prejudice demonstrates that even people who are strongly motivated to see themselves as unprejudiced may discriminate in situations where they can justify doing so on the basis of some factor unrelated to social group membership (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2004). Becoming aware of the possibility that they might discriminate against others makes many people feel anxious and uncomfortable; as a result, they tend to avoid intergroup interactions as a way to manage these negative emotions (Stephan, Ybarra, & Morrison, 2009). Acknowledging the situations that make people uncomfortable is an important step toward addressing this anxiety and increases people's willingness to engage in intergroup interactions (Monteith & Mark, 2009).
Benokraitis, N. V., & Feagin, J. R. (1995). Modern sexism: Blatant, subtle, and covert discrimination (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Dovidio, J. F., & Gaertner, S. L. (2004). Aversive racism. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 36, pp. 1-52). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Katz, I., & Hass, R. G. (1988). Racial ambivalence and American value conflict: Correlational and priming studies of dual cognitive structures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 893-905. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0022-3518.104.22.1683
Monteith, M. J., & Mark, A. Y. (2009). The self-regulation of prejudice. In T. D. Nelson (Ed.), Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (pp. 507-523). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
Stephan, W. G., Ybarra, O., & Morrison, K. R. (2009). Intergroup threat theory. In T. D. Nelson (Ed.), Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (pp. 43-59). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.